Clean Sweep

New Year’s resolutions may come and go, but this year, resolve to keep your home (and your life) clutter free and organized — once and for all. Our Expert, Kimberly Merritt, has been making spaces beautiful for 18 years. She is a designer, educator and writer who teaches the art of interior decorating, interior redesign, home staging and color from her southern New Hampshire design studio. She is the creator of the Certified Decorating Professional programs and offers an array of workshops and classes for the decorating enthusiast. Visit her online at It’s common — especially after the holidays — to look around and realize things may have gotten a bit out of control. Life is busy and messy, but living with clutter can make you feel drained, overwhelmed and even depressed. Clutter literally clutters our minds and robs us of peace and harmony, focus and clarity.

However, clearing our homes of clutter will not only help reduce stress but allow us to enjoy our surroundings even more. It’s time to take back control and pare down the things we have.

Controlling clutter has become a multi-million dollar business. There are organizations, groups and professionals who offer an array of services in everything from organizing your closets to purging your entire home. There are products, tools and gadgets designed to help us get organized sold online and in retail store that specialize in organizing our lives.

Clutter happens to the best of us. Have day-to-day activities left you with little time to clean up and put things away? Or have you earned the affectionate title of pack rat? Let’s look at the possibilities.

The Everyman: We all have varying amounts of clutter in our homes. The groceries, the mail, the shoes and boots — anything and everything that makes its way through our door gets piled onto the furniture or gets added to the to-do list. And if you’re like everyone else, you probably have one room in your home where you toss things you just don’t want to deal with at that moment. Beware, clutter attracts clutter.

The Pack Rat: In our world of more is more, pack rats have a tendency to hold onto things longer than the rest of us. They just can’t bear to part with their stuff and have literally become possessed by their possessions. We all have items of sentimental value in our homes — the high school yearbook, the preserved wedding bouquet, childhood stuffed animals — the idea is to know when these items have lost their value and determine if it’s really necessary to hold onto everything we own. It’s OK to get rid of it.

So how do you know what to get rid of and what to keep? Start with the practical. Have you used or worn it in the last month? How about six months? There’s an unwritten rule that says if you don’t use it — loose it. If it isn’t functional (and/or beautiful) or you just don’t love it, it’s OK to let go.

But getting rid of, clearing away and organizing the rooms in your home is not about achieving perfection; it’s simply about finding balance between chaos and order. A place for everything and everything in its place — if it doesn’t have a home, it’s time to toss it. This includes both the practical and the beautiful.

Are you ready? Getting started may feel like a daunting task and nearly impossible to make headway once you begin, but it takes less time to declutter a space than it does to berate yourself over and over that nothing ever gets done. Take baby steps to ensure you can achieve success. Here are a few ground rules to get you started.

Tackle one area or room at a time and then give yourself the time to do it. It didn’t take a day to get out of control, so it’s going to take some time to clear it away. Break it down into manageable chunks and start with mini-projects like that drawer full of photos.

Focus on one thing at a time. Begin and end your day by picking up a few items around the house and put them where they belong.

Establish routines. One day a week focus on paper clutter, picking up toys or putting away the laundry. There are areas and specific rooms in our homes that naturally attract clutter. These hot spots include the kitchen, bathroom, tabletops and closets.

Spend 15 minutes picking up one room at a time each day. Place items that don’t belong in this room in a basket or bag so each family member can rescue his or her items.

Collect like items in a basket. Make the rounds and then place them back in the room where they belong. Take your time and don’t be tempted to stray outside of these parameters. If you’ve chosen to pick up clothes, only pick up clothes. Whether you’ve decided to tackle this one day at a time or as an all-day project — simply repeat the process. This way you won’t be tempted to place things where they don’t belong.

That said, focus on the storage areas of your home so they’re ready for everything else. Organized closets, drawers and cabinets will be ready to accept items for storage.

Corral all papers and mail from the week and file or recycle every piece. Keep on top of all the paper clutter in your home by established a designated drawer or basket for any and all papers.

Keep important paperwork, warranties and receipts in a household notebook. Create a family planner for schedules, school papers and medical records.

Downsize your wardrobe and give your closets some breathing space. Again — if you haven’t worn it in six months, it’s time to let it go. How many pairs of black shoes do you really need anyway?

Assess your stuff. Do you use it, need it or want it? If not, there are plenty of people who do. Consign it, sell it, donate it or recycle it. Gather boxes and label them “Give Away,” “Recycle” or “Store.” If you’re struggling with an item that may come in handy, store it in a box, but give yourself a deadline to finally toss it out.

Establish systems. Decide what happens to everything that comes in the house. Designate areas for shoes and boots, mail and paperwork, bill paying and recycling to name a few.

Invest in plastic bins. Once you’ve tackled the previous tips, now it’s time to find a semi-permanent home for everything you need to store. Obvious items include spring and summer clothes, holiday decorations and seasonal sporting equipment. Make sure you label the boxes and store like items together.

Maintain your sanity. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste — clean as you go to keep clutter at bay.

I plan to settle in for the winter and begin my own de-cluttering projects. I have boxes of Space Bags just waiting to be unpacked and put to good use just as soon as I move this pile of stuff!Decorating Anxiety Cured!Begin anew by rearranging the furniture, replacing art and swapping out the drapes? Absolutely. The concept of “re-decorating” has never been more popular. By focusing on placement and basic design principles, your old furnishings can be given new life when rearranged or given a complete change of scenery by moving them to another room.

There’s no need to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of decorating your home. Start with these basic steps that every decorator uses when helping clients.

Start with a plan. Take a good look at your rooms and decide which furnishings and objects you plan to keep and which pieces need to move someplace else. Just because you inherited family furnishings, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to keep it. Have you always wanted to turn your dining room into a craft room or utilize the guest room as a den? Why not?

Form follows function. Your home is not a museum. Select the pieces of furniture you need to seat your family of four comfortably; not an army of holiday guests that only visit a couple of times a year. Each piece that you choose should complement the way you live in your home. Do you find you need more storage in your living room? Use a trunk as a coffee table and double its use. Although aesthetics are important, I never sacrifice the function of a room in order to make it pretty.

Find your focus. Every room has a focal point, either found in the architecture such as a fireplace or picture window. If not, you can create a focal point using your largest piece of furniture or a fabulous piece of art. Focal points naturally draw you into a room. Once you’ve determined what your focus is, rearrange the furniture into conversation groupings by angling pieces side by side in an L-shaped or U-shaped arrangement. This placement technique will ensure that everyone who is seated can carry on a conversation without shouting across the room.

Accessorize with care. Learn how to rotate collections instead of displaying everything you own. Accessories are often less expensive quick-fix items that everyone can afford so we have the tendency to buy more than we need. Set aside an afternoon to bring all of your accessories together and then have fun creating groupings by mixing various textures together and varying the height and scale of each piece. Less truly is more. You will appreciate your treasure much more if they’re not struggling for attention.

The good news is that today’s decorating trends are all about personalizing a space while mixing periods and materials. Be careful not to fill your home with so many trendy items that you feel the need to redecorate again and again. Instead, update your décor with a few well-chosen pieces and colorful accents. By working with color and updating tired furnishings with fabric, you can easily bring your traditional décor into the 21st century.Purge and Pack —Getting Ready to SellIf you’re thinking of placing your home on the market, it’s important to prepare your home in order for it to sell. Most realtors will tell you that clearing away the clutter is an essential part of the process. In fact, it’s the number one challenge in selling a home today.

There are certain factors involved in the successful sale of a home including location, price, the general market and realtor marketing. But did you know that the condition or presentation of your home is equally important? Only 10 percent of people can see past the clutter and really visualize a home’s potential. Cleaning and decluttering a home yields a 578 percent return on your investment, according to the 2007 HomeGain’s National Survey.

The whole idea behind staging is to get the best return on your investment. How can potential buyers appreciate the beauty of your home if it’s hidden under all that stuff! Show off beautiful floors and counters.

There’s no time like the present. It’s time to purge and pack to stay ahead of the game. NH

Categories: Home & Garden